There is no other record in the catalog that’s been the source of as many blown minds and blown speakers as ‘Bitches Brew.’ The only constant about Miles Davis over the years was his refusal to be a constant. While his compass had pointed in a new direction for a couple of records, ‘Bitches Brew’ was a Big Bang. It gave birth to entire genres, methods of working with tape edits, and leveraging the recording studio as an instrument itself. The unhinged electricity and unapologetic rock grooves set the jazz world on its ear. Those critics and fans who cried foul and shouted for the bell-bottomed, amplified, hippies to get off their lawns and bring back the tuxedoed guys “who knew how to swing” were frustrated at their inability to adjust their ears. Miles knew that time and life didn’t sit still, and that being liked wasn’t as important as saying what needed to be said. His uncanny knack for changing the times, and writing a new soundtrack to accompany them didn’t include a clause for traditionalism. The experiment paid off—fifty years later, ‘Bitches Brew’ continues to influence, provoke, polarize, inspire, and delight. Don’t worry if you don’t get it on your first listen. Or second. Or even your fifth. Nothing that’s this worthwhile was ever achieved suddenly. Happy 50th ‘Bitches Brew
Before I knew better, I misinterpreted the cover art as a soundtrack, and the credits noting electric piano and flute gave me pause that the music was going to lean electric, funkified, proto-fusion; with Starsky & Hutch-Esque car chase vibes. Wrong, wrong, wrong. ‘The Prisoner’ is more like a larger-format transmogrification of Second Great Quintet meets Gil Evans. So to others who perhaps made a similar error in snap-judgment, or who’ve passed over this little-discussed title in the discography, I encourage you to open your ears to this great, under-recognized masterpiece. I’m pleased (and grateful) that @donwas @jazzsaraswati @ckurosman and the rest of the team at saw fit to reissue ‘The Prisoner’ as part of their series. I pre-ordered a copy the moment it was announced and given the state of things, I was surprised and delighted to see it on the doorstep today. ‘The Prisoner’ is a post-bop session from April 1969, showcasing Hancock’s playing and composing chops in the context of a formidable nonet: Joe Henderson (tenor sax/alto flute), Johnny Coles (flugelhorn), Garnett Brown (trombone), Tony Studd (bass trombone), Hubert Laws (flute), Jerome Richardson (bass clarinet), Buster Williams (bass), & Albert Heath (drums). The liner notes and song titles—along with subsequent interviews and articles—allow Mr. Hancock to establish his narrative: “The Prisoner” as a metaphor for the African-American experience, in what Hancock calls “a social statement in music”. The LP is also his dedication to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a gripping listen—cerebral, dense, and with an overall tone I’d describe as somewhat solemn, but it’s not gloomy or heavy-hearted despite the gravity of the subject matter. Hancock, Henderson, and Coles are the standout players, though this is truly a team effort. This pressing sounds HUGE with marvelous separation among the instruments, a deep low end, and the vinyl is perfectly quiet. A job well-done on a reissue that hopefully gives this overlooked record another day in court. Apologies for the crap photo…the LP jacket looks great but is rather reflective!
Stylings of the classic quartet and Second Great Quintet blend beautifully, creating a post-bop tour de force that’s both celebratory and reflective. There’s a lot to enjoy here. “Passion Dance” opens the record and grooves with unadulterated joy. Pair it with a strong cup of coffee, and your day is off to a GREAT start! “Contemplation” and “Search For Peace” are introspective ballads, thoughtful and deep but not somber. “Four By Five” is a labyrinth of intertwining lines and shifting time signatures, an engaging game of musicianship where everybody’s a winner. Then there’s “Blues On The Corner,” which certainly has blues in its DNA, but it’s more distantly related, like a second cousin, twice removed. One thing I always find striking about this session is the uniqueness of Joe Henderson’s voice. It’s easy and almost reactive to envision him as a understudy given the context, but that’s simply not the case. To my ears, Henderson is almost defiant in his insistence on being himself. His attack is sharp, and his lines are aggressive yet melodic. He prowls each measure like a restless panther, attacking with counterpoints to Tyner’s block chords with lithe athleticism. He doesn’t do so with the cold, ruthless efficiency of a predatory cat, but rather with a passion and soulfulness that brings the most out of every tune. All the while, Ron Carter brings the @milesdavis SGQ structural and time freedoms to bear, NONE of which throw Elvin Jones off, even for a moment. Years of partnership with Tyner under the mentorship of Coltrane have created a personal, sympathetic communication between them that ensures they’re working in lockstep. I don’t know that this is the best @mccoytyner album, but it’s certainly one of the two I reach for most often. Essential. Music Matters Jazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing…best I’ve ever heard it
The exceptional compositions and phenomenal musicianship on ‘Juju’ takes every song supernova. Charged with energy, passion, and adventure, it’s often described as Shorter’s most “Coltrane-esque” album, and given the presence of McCoy Tyner-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Elvin Jones-drums, no wonder. However, while Trane’s spirit is a clear (and welcome) presence, vive la différence: Shorter’s travels were with an occasional glance in the rearview mirror, returning to variations of his beautifully written melodies; whereas Trane took the scenic route, and would worry about finding his way back later on. Not that Shorter’s playing here is conservative—his torrents of ideas and emotions were equally relentless, but they were Wayne Shorter’s; even if he was playing with a big, bold sound that may feel like an homage to his mentor. Coltrane-isms aside, the overall vibe of the record is uplifting which I find inspiring as the day’s first spin, but it’s equally at home in the small hours of the night—you can easily lose yourself in Tyner’s spiraling piano lines and Shorter’s odes to joy. Everyone plays superbly, though the true hero is bassist Reggie Workman, the gravitational force providing the center around which everyone orbits. His bass is precise and muscular when necessary, driving to coalesce the team around an idea. Other times, his sinewy counter-leads duck and weave like an Olympic-caliber fencer, light on his feet and challenging the others to find an opening. Then there’s Elvin Jones whose power and dexterity on this record puts the full range of his skills on display—it’s one of my favorite performances from him, EVER. 1964 was some kind of year for Shorter, recording three classic LPs for Blue Note—this one, ‘Speak No Evil’ and ‘Night Dreamer’—as well as joining Second Great Quintet. Fifty-five years later, he’s still recording and touring…more power to you Wayne! This is a Music Matters 2XLP 45RPM pressing, which sounds AMAZING. Hard to pick a favorite among these 1964 albums but today, it’s this one
Here in one stylish package boasting excellent sound are the complete Prestige sessions of @milesdavis “First Great Quintet”, one of the most important small combo jazz groups ever! While the recordings as originally issued are the stuff of legend—whether you’re in the mood for ‘Relaxin’, ‘Steamin’, ‘Workin’, or ‘Cookin’—it’s best to think of this @craftrecordings package as its own beast. Craft made the decision to present the sessions in chronological order on this terrific set, taking the entire trip the Quintet made down the hard bop highway as Miles looked for the exit ramp from the Prestige era. In a sense, this quintet—John Coltrane-tenor sax, Red Garland-piano, Paul Chambers-Bass and Philly Joe Jones-drums—join Miles in a set of mostly standards, though the performances themselves are hardly standard! In fact they’re essential, key titles in any jazz collection. I enjoy the listening experience of everything in chronological order, the sound is really great, the vinyl is high quality, and Bob Blumenthal’s liner notes are a good read. It’s also a pretty great value—currently selling for just over $100 on Amazon, while preferred reissues of the Miles titles (I’m using @analogueproductions for comparison) would run you about $35 each X 4=$140, plus with this set you get additional material, expanded liner notes and solid packaging. It depends on what’s important to you and how you feel about the integrity of the original albums as issued. Had Miles gone into recording with different intent…with an album mindset…”hey, I wanna make a record called Relaxin’ and we’re gonna play a bunch of stuff that fits that vibe”, I’d have a hard time taking the music out of the original album context. But these sessions—while amazing in every way—were more about Miles moving on to the next thing, which was sort of Miles’ ambient state…moving on to the next thing. So I’m happy with this reimagined presentation, and if you’re looking to fill some holes in your collection, seeking a different listening experience for this incredible and incredibly important music, or gift shopping…👍! @craftrecordings @johncoltrane
The few remaining leaves are now falling with the first snow of the year. The tranquility of their shared journey downwards is captured perfectly by “Fall,” one of my Top Ten jazz tracks of all time. There’s a certain sadness to it, and while I can’t speak to the minds of the Second Great Quintet, it seems to me that it’s not just about a season. This Wayne Shorter composition was recorded two days after the death of @johncoltrane, and there’s an underlying melancholy that permeates not only the tone but the execution. “Fall” is generally beautiful and serene, the perfect soundtrack to the outside vibe. That said, beneath the surface, there’s an underlying sense of disquiet. It’s not enough to pierce the veil of calm, and if anything, the counterpoint provides a marvelous tension to the piece. By far my favorite moment comes at 2:18 when @herbiehancock begins a captivating piano solo when suddenly at 2:43—in classic Second Great Quintet form—he and Tony Williams break the space-time continuum with a mind-meld that just knocks me flat every time…it’s one of my favorite moments in jazz, an answer to the question “what’s so great about @milesdavis Second Great Quintet?” Well, there are many answers to that question, but right here, right now, it’s “Fall
Released 50 years ago today, this album is ahead of its time, even now. Miles established the ground rules of framework and freedom. Producer Teo Macero leveraged technology in music-making that has since become nearly ubiquitous. The band—Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (organ, elec piano), John McLaughlin (guitar), Dave Holland (bass), and Tony Willams (drums)—all trusted in the creative process. The result: a dreamy, meditative voyage as @milesdavis ushered in a new era in jazz, once again re-writing the rulebook as he saw fit and trailblazing a new trajectory for the genre and for himself. This album’s impact, influence and significance in music, culture and technology continues to resonate. Anything with that much power is deserving of repeat spins, discussion and respect. Happy 50th ‘In a Silent Way’—I don’t think you’ll ever act your age
Choosing a favorite amongst these four essential Miles albums released by Prestige featuring his classic quintet—Workin’ With, Relaxin’ With, Steamin’ With & Cookin’ With—it’s tough to pick a favorite. Today it’s ‘Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet’ as I’m obsessed with the opening ballad “It Never Entered My Mind”, a Rogers & Hart number that Miles had previously done a couple of years earlier with Horace Silver. This performance is on a whole other level though—awe inspiring to the point of transcendent. Give it a listen…if it doesn’t give you all the feels, check yourself for a pulse. Seriously. This track is all about Miles, Red Garland and Paul Chambers…John Coltrane plays only two notes. Both of them just right. “It Never Entered My Mind” answers lots of questions like “Why jazz?” Or “Why Miles?” Or “What do you mean by ‘feel’ in music?” The historical importance and context of the four albums that resulted from these two sessions (11 May and 26 Oct 1956) is better told elsewhere, but the 26 songs recorded over those two days—all first takes—are pure magic. My fascination with this one track from this one LP is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a sweet sounding mono pressing from 1975, a Japanese reissue SMJ-6503M of Prestige PRLP 7166 @milesdavis @johncoltrane @prestigerecords @prestigejazz